Family Violence Offenses

The purpose of the Neal Davis Law Firm E-book series is designed to provide basic, accessible information that is relevant to those who have been charged with a particular type of crime. Those facing charges will be better prepared to make informed decisions if they understand the nature and implications of the charges against them, and have more clarity about what the court process will involve.

What is Family Violence?

The terms “family violence” and “domestic violence” are often used interchangeably and cover a variety of different crimes. Assault on a family member, continuous violence against the family, and interfering with a 911 call are all considered types of family violence. The State of Texas takes family violence cases very seriously. A family violence allegation can, besides leading to a jail or prison sentence, adversely affect access to your children, and possibly cost you your employment or professional licenses. Someone who is not a United States citizen and who has a family violence conviction can face loss of status, exclusion, or deportation.

Choosing a Defense Attorney

When charged with a family violence offense, it is crucial to consult a qualified attorney as soon as possible. If you would like a free consultation to discuss your situation with a qualified attorney, please contact our office as soon as possible.

Family Violence: Charges

Overview

It is a crime to intentionally, knowingly or recklessly cause any bodily injury to another person. Bodily injury encompasses anything that can be considered “physical pain ... or any impairment of physical condition.” For example, scratching, bruising, or causing redness to the skin of another person can be considered bodily injury. The term “recklessly” refers to unintentional harm, such as being aware of but consciously disregarding a risk. Throwing an object in the direction of another person and hitting them, even if it was unintentional, can be considered assault. Choking, or otherwise cutting off the complainant’s breath or circulation, is considered a more serious crime. This can occur, for instance, when someone grabs a necklace or shirt collar and temporarily cuts off another person's breath.

The term “family” includes people who are family members, either by blood or by association, or “who have or have had a continuing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.” Ex-spouses, ex-boyfriends, and ex-girlfriends, as well as current spouses, boyfriends, and girlfriends, are considered to be in a “dating relationship.”

Punishment

Causing bodily injury to another is a Class A misdemeanor. Such a misdemeanor carries up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Cutting off a person’s breath or circulation is a third-degree felony. Such a felony carries a term of imprisonment from 2 to 10 years, in addition to a fine up to $10,000.

Defense Strategy

Denying that violence occurred is a viable defense strategy (i.e., “It never happened.”). Admitting that violence did occur, but only in self-defense, is another viable defense strategy. If a child is involved, claiming that reasonable force was used to discipline the child is necessary for defense. Sometimes there is a question as to whether the relationship qualifies as a dating relationship, a status necessary to warrant a family violence charge.

With family violence charges, it doesn't matter if the person who made the allegations wants the charges dismissed. (Statistically, most accusers don't want charges to go forward.) Texas law holds that charges can only be dropped following an investigation. In Harris County, the Family Violence Division was established to handle these kinds of cases and will advance the charges even if the accuser has changed their mind or their story. For this reason, it is crucial to hire an attorney who has experience leveraging the accuser’s desire for dismissal along with other evidence to persuade the prosecutor to dismiss charges

Process

Investigations in these cases often occur after the complainant or some third party (such as a neighbor) calls police. If the complainant tells the police that assault has occurred, the person accused will be arrested. An accusation alone is enough to warrant an arrest. Occasionally, the person who makes the accusations will wait several days, or even months to report the alleged assaults. Despite delayed accusations, police will routinely file charges.

If charges are filed, the defendant will be arrested and taken to jail. In jail, the defendant will often see a magistrate who may set a bond. If the jail magistrate does not set bond, the defendant will go to court and the trial judge will set a bond.

Overview

It is a crime to intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly cause another person serious bodily injury, or to use or display a deadly weapon. "Serious bodily injury" means any injury that creates a substantial risk of death, or that leads to death, or that causes serious permanent disfigurement, impairment, or loss of function of any body part or organ (such as loss of hearing after being hit on the ear). It can also involve using or showing off a deadly weapon during an assault. The term “family” includes people “who have or have had a continuing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.” Ex-spouses, ex-boyfriends, and ex-girlfriends, as well as current spouses, boyfriends, and girlfriends, are considered to be in a “dating relationship.”

Punishment

Aggravated assault on a family member is a first-degree felony. Such a felony carries a term of imprisonment up to 99 years or life, plus a fine up to $10,000.

Defense Strategy

Denying that violence occurred is a viable defense strategy (i.e., “It never happened.”). Admitting that violence did occur, but only in self-defense, is another viable defense strategy. If a child is involved, claiming that reasonable force was used to discipline the child is necessary for defense. Sometimes there is a question as to whether the relationship qualifies as a dating relationship, a status necessary to warrant a family violence charge.

With family violence charges, it doesn't matter if the person who made the allegations wants the charges dismissed. (Statistically, most accusers don't want charges to go forward.) Texas law holds that charges can only be dropped following an investigation. In Harris County, the Family Violence Division was established to handle these kinds of cases and will advance the charges even if the accuser has changed their mind or their story. For this reason, it is crucial to hire an attorney who has experience leveraging the accuser’s desire for dismissal along with other evidence to persuade the prosecutor to dismiss charges

Process

Investigations in these cases often occur after the complainant or some third party (such as a neighbor) calls police. If the complainant tells the police that assault has occurred, the person accused will be arrested. An accusation alone is enough to warrant an arrest. Occasionally, the person who makes the accusations will wait several days, or even months to report the alleged assaults. Despite delayed accusations, police will routinely file charges.

If charges are filed, the defendant will be arrested and taken to jail. In jail, the defendant will often see a magistrate who may set a bond. If the jail magistrate does not set bond, the defendant will go to court and the trial judge will set a bond.

Overview

It is a crime if a person two or more times within a year intentionally, knowingly or recklessly injures another person who is either a member of their family or in dating relationship with them. The same family member does not have to be involved in all the alleged incidents.

Bodily injury encompasses anything that can be considered “physical pain...or any impairment of physical condition.” For example, scratching, bruising, or causing redness to the skin of another person can be considered bodily injury.

The term “recklessly” refers to unintentional harm, such as being aware of but consciously disregarding a risk. Throwing an object in the direction of another person and hitting them, even if it was unintentional, can be considered assault.

"Family" includes related individuals (including relatives by blood or affinity), including spouses or former spouses, people who are the parents of the same child (without regard to marriage), and foster children and parents—without regard to whether those individuals live together. "Household" means a unit composed of people living together in the same dwelling, without regard to whether they are related to each other. “Dating relationship” means people who are or have been in a continuing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature. Ex-spouses, ex-boyfriends, and ex-girlfriends, as well as current spouses, boyfriends, or girlfriends, are considered to be in a “dating relationship.”

Punishment

Continuous violence against the family is a third-degree felony. Such a felony carries a term of imprisonment of 2 to 10 years, plus a fine up to $10,000. When repeated bodily injury occurs against a child (someone 14 years or younger), then the defendant is usually charged with injury to a child, not continuous violence against the family.

Defense Strategy

Denying that violence occurred is a viable defense strategy (i.e., “It never happened.”). Admitting that violence did occur, but only in self-defense, is another viable defense strategy. If a child is involved, claiming that reasonable force was used to discipline the child is necessary for defense. Sometimes there can be a question as to whether the relationship qualifies as a dating relationship, a status necessary to warrant a family violence charge.

With family violence charges, it doesn't matter if the person who made the allegations later wants the charges dismissed. (Statistically, most accusers don't want charges to go forward.) Texas law holds that charges can only be dropped by following an investigation. In Harris County, the Family Violence Division was established to handle these kinds of cases and will advance the charges even if the accuser has changed their mind or their story. For this reason, it is crucial to hire an attorney who has experience leveraging the accuser’s desire for dismissal along with other evidence to persuade the prosecutor to dismiss charges.

Process

Investigations in these cases often occur after the complainant or some third party (such as a neighbor) calls police. If the complainant tells the police that assault has occurred, the person accused will be arrested. An accusation alone is enough to warrant an arrest. Occasionally, the person who makes the accusations will wait several days, or even months to report the alleged assaults. Despite delayed accusations, police will routinely file charges.

If charges are filed, the defendant will be arrested and taken to jail. In jail, the defendant will often see a magistrate who may set a bond. If the jail magistrate does not set bond, the defendant will go to court and the trial judge will set a bond.

Overview

Charges of "interfering with emergency request for assistance" are sometimes filed along with family violence charges. This can occur if someone tries to hang up the phone or otherwise stop another person while they are trying to call 911. The law also applies if someone interferes with another person while they are trying to call or reach a doctor, hospital, agency, or shelter.

Punishment

On its own, interfering with a 911 call is a Class A misdemeanor, with a punishment of up to a year in jail and a fine up to $4,000. Prior convictions can make it a felony.

Defense Strategy

As with other family violence offenses, denying that the incident occurred is a viable defense strategy (i.e., “It never happened.”). Because it falls under "offenses against public order and decency", questions about the circumstances, reasons for acting (self-defense or reasonable force), or relationship between the accuser and accused do not provide viable strategies for defense.

Process

As part of their investigation, police will attempt to interview the person accused. They may attempt to interrogate them at the scene of the alleged events, or, if allegations are made later, they may call or request an interview claiming they want to “hear the defendant’s side.” Police will often record this conversation to be used as evidence to support charges.

IT IS CRUCIAL THAT THE PERSON ACCUSED DOES NOT SPEAK TO POLICE AND CHOOSES AND HIRES A QUALIFIED ATTORNEY.

Police are trained to be skilled interrogators. Some officers are so effective that they can coerce false confessions from suspects. Often, police have already decided to file charges and will attempt to get the accused person to provide information that will hurt their chances of being proven innocent. To protect the outcome of the investigation, it is important that the person accused does not speak to police. A defense lawyer will conduct an investigation as well, which will include talking to the police. The lawyer can determine whether cooperating with police can help or hurt the case.

Family Violence: Procedure

Initially, a person charged with a family violence offense may be given either no bond or a high bond until a judge enters a Temporary Restraining Order against the accused person, at which time the bond is significantly reduced. For example, bond might initially be set at $50,000, but reduced to $5,000 when a Temporary Restraining Order is entered.

IN SITUATIONS LIKE THESE, THE PERSON ACCUSED WOULD BE WISE TO WAIT TO HIRE A BONDSMAN UNTIL THE BOND IS REDUCED.

For most offenses, including family violence offenses, a defendant is entitled to bond pending resolution of the case. Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 17.15 states the factors that courts must consider in setting a bond

  • The bail shall be sufficiently high to give reasonable assurance that the undertaking will be complied with.
  • The power to require bail is not to be so used as to make it an instrument of oppression.
  • The nature of the offense and the circumstances under which it was committed are to be considered.
  • The ability to make bail is to be regarded, and proof may be taken upon this point.
  • The future safety of a victim of the alleged offense and the community shall be considered.

Texas appeals courts have held that other factors can be considered. These factors include the defendant’s work record, community ties, family ties, length of residency, prior criminal history, conformity with any prior bonds, and the existence of any outstanding bond.

The trial court cannot set just any bond. The court must set a reasonable bond. If the bond is unreasonable, then the defendant can appeal. These appeals are “expedited” or sped up, since the defendant is in custody.

Defendants usually hire a bonding company to post the bond. Bonding companies typically want the defendant to pay ten percent or so of the total bond amount and put up some collateral to make sure the defendant does not jump bond (e.g., fail to appear in court). For example, if the trial court sets a $20,000 bond, a bonding company might charge $2,000 and require the remaining bond amount to be secured by property, such as a house.

Investigations in family violence cases often begin after the complainant or some third party (such as a neighbor) calls police. If the complainant tells the police that assault has occurred, the person accused will be arrested. An accusation alone is enough to warrant an arrest. Occasionally, the person who makes the accusations will wait several days, or even months, to report the alleged assaults. Despite delayed accusations, police will routinely file charges.

As part of their investigation, police will attempt to interview the person accused of violence. They may attempt to interrogate the individual at the scene of the alleged events, or, if allegations are made at some point afterward, they may call or request an interview claiming they want to “hear the defendant’s side.” Police will often record this conversation to be used as evidence to support charges.

IT IS CRUCIAL THAT THE PERSON ACCUSED DOES NOT SPEAK TO POLICE AND CHOOSES AND HIRES A QUALIFIED ATTORNEY.

Police are trained to be skilled interrogators. Some officers are so effective that they can coerce false confessions from suspects. Often, police have already decided to file charges and will attempt to get the accused person to provide information that will hurts their chances of being proven innocent. To protect the outcome of the investigation, it is important that the person accused does not speak to police. A defense lawyer will conduct an investigation as well, which will include talking to the police. The lawyercan determine whether cooperating with police can help or hurt the case.

Some people mistakenly believe that hiring an attorney will make them look guilty. This is not true and can lead to unfortunate consequences. It is a defense attorney's job to protect the rights of a person accused of committing a crime. Police officers hire attorneys themselves when they come under investigation, and they understand that even innocent people need an attorney to help guide them through a process that is both foreign and frightening. Police often engage with defense attorneys, and it's not unusual for police to decline charges once they have been convinced by a defense attorney that prosecution is not warranted.

If charges are filed, the defendant will be arrested and taken to jail. In jail, the defendant will often see a magistrate who may set a bond. If the jail magistrate does not set bond, the defendant will go to court and the trial judge will set a bond.